Hands-On With Battleborn

Battleborn is set to be the next generation, squad-based shooter from Gearbox, and this year at PAX Prime I got my hands on about 20 minutes of actual gameplay. Gearbox has had its hands in all kinds of games in the past, but none have really been considered more successful than Borderlands. There are a lot of elements that they’ve carried over from that game to Battleborn, but there are also a few fresh new ideas as well.

Heading into Battleborn’s section of the 2K booth, I knew things were going to be good. Attendees were wrapped around the booth just waiting to get a piece of the action. Fans who weren’t necessarily up for waiting in the massive line were snapping pictures of the larger-than-live character busts strategically placed at this section of the convention’s entrance. Gearbox does first-person shooters the way the 2K knows how to cater to the public, and that makes for a stellar combination.

battleborn PAX

Borderlands on Steroids

Without looking closely, it would probably be pretty easy to mistake Battleborn for Borderlands. They’re both first-person shooters, they both have similar cel-shaded artistic styles, over-the-top characters and really funky environments. That’s basically where the similarities end, however, and for the better in my opinion.

What makes Battleborn feel unique is the characters. With more than 25 unique heroes the game takes a page out of the MOBA genre and fixes one of the terrible nuances with most FPS games. Simply having a guy with a gun doesn’t create an interesting story. In Borderlands, players take control of the Vault Hunter, but there’s not really much of a personalized story based on who you happen to choose. Furthermore, the playstyles do vary, but only slightly and most of the variation in gameplay comes from the millions of guns found around the game. Battleborn, on the other hand, doesn’t rely on in-game items at all to create customization and instead relies on each individual character.


Caldarius vs the World

Not all of the characters have been finished yet, and the choices were a little limited at PAX Prime, but there was already enough variety to make things interesting. In the video below, you can see I picked the character Caldarius, who basically looks like Megatron. He’s a very agile character and relies on that speed due to his fairly fragile frame. Caldarius doesn’t have the best range either, but he can do a few devastating mid-range and close-quarters attacks.

In addition to having a wide-variety of characters, each one can be built depending on the way a player wants to utilize them through the Helix. As players level up, from 1 to 10, they’re given a choice that augments one of their current abilities. For Caldarius, the choices generally consisted of better defense or more damage. This gives the option to do a ton of burst damage while relying on hit and run tactics, or to produce sustained damage without having to worry about dying so much. Not knowing much about the game, or the character I picked, I just went with whichever upgrade looked like it would be the most useful at the time.

How Good is Battleborn

So, after about 20 minutes of hands-on time with Battleborn, I guess the important question is: How much fun is Battleborn? To be honest, Battleborn is loads of fun. The short experience I had with the game was already more enjoyable than the hours I’ve put into the Borderlands franchise and here’s why. Battleborn instantly puts players into frantic, fast-paced, over-the-top combat that doesn’t stop until the mission’s over. There’s no need for a slow ramp up of slightly more powerful enemies or a need to curve difficulty with weapon drops found all over the map. It’s about a quick burst of insanely fun combat, which isn’t something found all too often in games developed these days. Everyone wants to build a game that lasts 100 hours, which means the beginning is often slow and there are periods of inaction. Battleborn is going to be the game where players know what they’re getting into. If they know they’ll only have an hour to play then that’s an hour of blasting spider mechs or weird demon creatures instead of running around gathering crafting material or sitting through boring dialogue.

I don’t necessarily think that Battleborn is going to be the game for everyone, but it is definitely suited for the gamer looking for instant gratification. Obviously, I haven’t had the chance to play the entire game yet, but it’s unlike that it will create the type of character investment that RPG players are typically used to. It does have a persistent progression system, but it’s more likely for tracking overall play progression than creating a personal connection to the characters. The Helix upgrades are intended for individual matches and don’t carry over from story mode or multiplayer matches.


Battleborn PvP

Unfortunately, we weren’t given a look at the player-versus-player in Battleborn, which is one of the main selling points for the game. One of the biggest weaknesses for Borderlands was that it didn’t include any type of PvP, but Battleborn is putting a lot of focus into this category. Gearbox has already unveiled three different 5vs5 PvP modes: Incursion, Devastation, and Meltdown.


Incursion essentially sounds like a MOBA, where players defend their base from AI minions while attempting to destroy the opponent’s base. This fits perfectly into the mold with 5 players, minion waves, and base destruction, but how much is borrowed from the genre is yet to be unveiled. Devastation is just a fancy term for point control, but there’s nothing wrong with a death-match style mode. Finally, Meltdown takes a play out of SMITE’s book. Players must escort minions to the enemy’s incinerator in order to score points, and obviously the team with the most points at the end wins the match. Due to the distinct nature of all three modes, and the story mode, it’ll be interesting to see how balancing works and how competitive the game actually becomes.

So far, Battleborn has a lot of potential and Gearbox has a lot to prove by making a second successful franchise. From what I’ve experienced, the game is already a blast to play, but whether it can hold players’ attention for the long run is yet to be determined.

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About Nick Shively

Nick is an eSports and RPG enthusiast. He can normally be found in the deepest parts of a dungeon or in the arena slaying opponents. Nick has been a gamer since an early age and involved in the industry since 2011. He obtained a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2015.